Thursday, July 09, 2009

New Leadership Brings Needed Changes to FCC and National Broadband Policy

Following his confirmation by the Senate, newly minted FCC Chair Julius Genachowski addressed the staff at the FCC on June 30th and in the process told the world how his administration would differ from the previous one. From PULP’s perspective, the two most important things he told the gathered group which separate him from the Martin-era FCC were:
“Our policy decisions will be fact-based and data-driven.”
“As the country’s expert agency on communications, it is our job to pursue this vision of a more connected America, focusing on the following goals:
  • Promoting universal broadband that’s robust, affordable and open.
  • Pursuing policies that promote job creation, competition, innovation and investment.
  • Protecting and empowering consumers and families. . . .”
Then, the next day, he traveled to Erie, Pennsylvania and spoke about why a federal program to deliver affordable broadband access nationwide is essential:
“Why are we lagging in many broadband categories but comparably better in linking classrooms? Because we had a plan.

In the Telecommunications Act of 1996, Congress enacted a program called the “E-Rate” to provide discounted Internet access in schools and libraries. The FCC implemented the plan and our country has made real progress – though there’s much more to do in this area.

Today, as the government moves quickly on billions in much-needed broadband grants, we are also moving on a broadband strategic plan for the entire country so that we can renew American leadership and competitiveness for the 21st Century.”
Let’s see: a fact driven agency and a leader who sees the need for government intervention to make universal affordable broadband a reality. An excellent stepping off point for Chairman Genachowski. I met him many years ago when I was interviewing then-FCC Chair Reed Hundt for a legal publication and Genachowski was Hundt’s Chief Counsel. We had both been out of law school just a couple of years. Even during my short visit, he seemed impressive. Leadership such as what Genachowski has proposed on broadband is essential if we are going to be successful in making it universally available and affordable. At least four states, California , Maine, Texas , and Wisconsin created in-state funding mechanisms to bring broadband to schools, libraries, and community centers while the federal government dithered under the Bush administration.

Inexplicably, New York, on the other hand, continues in its adherence to the failed “market driven” policies of the past that have given us slower, less ubiquitous, and more expensive broadband than a a growing number of states and nations. As we reported recently, the New York State Public Service Commission (“PSC”) told the FCC in its comments regarding its universal broadband initiative that policy makers elected by the people who see the importance of universal affordable broadband to the future of the economy and society should not disturb the results of the broadband “market.” Such blind faith in the market, we wrote, has already left New York far behind countries that have been proactive with policies to lower the cost of broadband, increase speed and bandwidth, and increase its deployment and actual use by citizens. See PULP Network, June 12, 2009, PSC to FCC: We Oppose Measures to Effectuate Universal Affordable Broadband Service. In its comments , the PSC even questioned the need to bring broadband to every citizen today. See PULP Network, June 19, 2009, PSC's Market Ideology Clashes with Goals of Affordable Universal Broadband Service.

Maybe the time has arrived for the New York PSC Commissioners, all of whom lack prior experience in telecom and universal service issues, to make use of their state broadband service (not available to low-income New Yorkers who cannot afford it) to watch the new FCC Chair at meeting webcasts, and learn what it means to be a leader in the effort to achieve universal affordable broadband and how to play the necessary regulatory role to make it happen in New York sooner rather than later.

Lou Manuta

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